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Story of the Peace Diamond: It Takes a Village

Pastor Emmanuel Momoh tells the story of discovering the world’s 14th-largest diamond.

Nov 20, 2017 9:45 AM   By Avi Krawitz
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RAPAPORT... Negotiations began immediately when Komba John-Bull and his four coworkers arrived at Pastor Emmanuel Momoh’s home on that fateful night on March 13, 2017.

The team of diamond diggers was confident they had something significant and, as tradition dictated, were entitled to a dash — or stipend — from their financier, who owned the rights to the massive rock they’d found earlier that day. The dash would be an expression of confidence that he believed his workers were there to deliver some good news.

Sitting in his lounge, puzzled by their coy sense of excitement, the pastor eventually agreed to a price of 800,000 leone to persuade the men to disclose what they knew — or possessed. The equivalent of around $100 was a hefty fee, he thought, but this must be important if they’d found it necessary to come to his house unannounced.

While the men continued to playfully talk around the issue, the pastor’s suspicions were soon validated. John-Bull finally reached into his pocket, and with a smile that reflected the yellowish hue of the diamond he held, looked at the pastor and declared, “This is what God has blessed us with this afternoon.”

Momoh sat quietly as the men speculated on how big the stone was, their excitement rising with each carat they added.

“We thought maybe 200 or 300 carats, but at that point we weren’t even sure it was actually a diamond,” Momoh tells Rapaport Magazine.

Eventually he sent the men home so he could come up with a game plan. If it was a diamond weighing hundreds of carats, the discovery could have major ramifications not only for Momoh and his team, but for their village of Koryardu, the Kono district and Sierra Leone as a whole.

Wake-up Call

With that in mind, Momoh knew he had to involve Chief Paul Ngaba Saquee, head of the chiefdom where the diamond was found — and where the diggers lived — to ensure the diamond would go through the right channels on its way to the market. 

But first, Momoh had to ascertain that it was indeed a diamond and exactly how many carats it contained.

For that, the pastor went to one of the largest dealers in the Kono diamond district, whose name will remain anonymous for this story. When the dealer put the stone on the scale, it weighed in at 706 carats — though it was later confirmed at 709 carats, ranking as the 14th-largest rough diamond ever recovered and the third-largest from Sierra Leone.

That’s where Momoh’s next round of negotiations started.

The dealer saw the size of the stone and expected to buy it, though he didn’t offer a price, the pastor recalls. Still, Momoh withstood the pressure to sell it then and there; his only thought was to involve Saquee, who could give him the best guidance about the sale. Besides, Momoh continues, dealers in Kono are known to give rock-bottom prices for the diamonds they buy from diggers.

By the time Momoh excused himself to call the chief, it was 2 a.m. Knocking on the village elder’s window at that hour would be a massive breach of protocol, so he and his team of diggers returned the following morning and fetched the chief to see the diamond.

“I just kept saying, ‘Wow,’” Saquee recalls. “It was unbelievable, and I knew this negotiation had to be handled delicately.”

The Chance to Live a Dream

After viewing the diamond, the chief gave it back to the dealer as a gesture of goodwill, with the assurance that he was not opposed to selling it to him. But first they had to inform the government about the stone. The chief immediately called State House — the president’s principal workplace — where a cabinet meeting was taking place that day. That gave them a window of opportunity to present the stone to key government officials, including President Ernest Bai Koroma.

Saquee lent the pastor and the diggers his car while he and the dealer set out on the 360-kilometer journey from Kono to Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital. The chief consciously placed the diamond in the dealer’s care for the journey, partly concerned there might be trouble otherwise, and partly to give the dealer confidence that he could still become the stone’s buyer.

On the way, the chief faced continued pressure to sell the diamond without the government’s involvement, receiving calls from the dealer’s partners — who were visiting Antwerp at the time — not to mention the constant banter in the car from the dealer himself. But on arrival, as the men set out toward the parliament buildings, and with a sufficient security presence in sight, the chief asked for the diamond back again.

As he showed the stone to the president, the chief couldn’t contain his excitement.

“This was always my dream,” Saquee says. “This was our opportunity for a diamond found in Sierra Leone to be sold in a public tender in Sierra Leone, and for the proceeds to benefit the country’s citizens.”

Turning to the International Market

With the government involved, Saquee and Momoh felt a burden had been lifted and that they could now proceed with the sale. But when the stone was placed on tender in Freetown a few months later, the pair suspected the buyers were in cahoots to undermine its final price. Garnering bids from local dealers, they felt the highest offer of $7,077,077 was not satisfactory for a diamond of its stature.

After rejecting the offer, Saquee decided the time had come to take it to the international market. They solicited offers to sell the diamond on their behalf, and the pair chose the Rapaport Group, which agreed to waive its service fee and offered to help with the subsequent investment of the proceeds. Everyone from the pastor to the president was seeking advice on how to ensure the funds could benefit the local community.

Despite its diamond reserves, the pastor notes, Kono lacks many basic needs such as electricity, water, education and infrastructure. As the largest shareholder in the diamond, and with the team of diggers also holding a sizable stake, Momoh intends to contribute a significant portion of his share to the community. The government, through its partial ownership and the royalties and taxes it will receive, has also made assurances that the proceeds will benefit the artisanal miners and the community. For that reason, among others, the president has named it the Peace Diamond.

The sale, Saquee stresses, will show artisanal miners that they’ll receive suitable compensation if they properly disclose their finds, rather than smuggling them or getting robbed by unscrupulous businessmen who pass for dealers. There is hope that once that happens, Sierra Leone and the Kono district will be able to gain maximum benefit from the area’s riches.

“The Peace Diamond will greatly improve the lives of our people, as it will bring clean water, electricity, schools, medical facilities, bridges and roads to our villages and the Kono District,” Momoh says. “This diamond represents our hope for a better future as the resources of Sierra Leone fund growth, development and jobs.” 

This article was first published in the November issue of Rapaport Magazine.

Correction: The original highest offer made for the diamond in Sierra Leone was $7,077,777 and not $7.7 million as initially stated in the article. 
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Tags: Avi Krawitz, diamond, kono, Peace Diamond, Sierra Leone
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